CHAPEL HILL - A downtown nonprofit will celebrate 16 years in the community Saturday by honoring two women who worked to make it better.
Empowerment Inc. was formed in 1996 on North Graham Street to provide affordable housing, improve community relations and help build small businesses.
Velma Perry and Dr. Anne Scott “need to know they are loved and appreciated,” Executive Director Delores Bailey said.
“In these two women, you’ve got somebody championing for the community and somebody championing for women,” she said. “That’s what we do, and that’s what these two women have contributed to Empowerment.”
Perry, 92, still lives in the house her grandfather built on Lindsay Street. Her great-great-grandfather was one of 100 slaves brought to the area the 1700s, she said. They settled in Northside, and the white folks lived across Church Street, she said.
Perry’s father was a waiter who traveled between hotels on the East Coast. Her mother took in laundry, worked as a maid and cook at the Carolina Inn and rented out their bedrooms, she said.
After attending the pre-segregation Orange County Training School, Perry spent a year at Bennett College in Greensboro.
She returned when her mother got sick and eventually became a maid at the Carolina Inn. She was named supervisor before retiring 30 years later. She still sings in the choir at St. Paul’s AME Church.
In those days, she said, many white people thought that “black folk had no sense.”
“Now (whites and blacks) have things together,” she said.
Perry said she and other neighbors worked together to improve their lives. As the neighborhood’s elders passed on, their houses became student rentals and brought parties, noise and trash, she said.
“She always had a voice and she always encouraged us to use our voices,” Bailey said.
Scott, 91, has been a “champion” of women’s rights and helped many single mothers, she said.
“There are still people benefiting from the way she gave to Empowerment,” she said.
Scott was born in Montezuma, Ga., just as women gained the right to vote. She graduated from the University of Georgia and earned her doctorate from Harvard University.
In 1961, she took a job as a visiting professor in Duke University’s history department. The assumption was they were going to find a man to fill the position, but they kept her, she said. In 1980, she was named the department’s first chairwoman.
She’s now the W. K. Boyd Professor Emerita of History and a professor emeritus in the Women’s Studies program.
She has written several essays, lectures and books, including “The Southern Lady,” which critics said helped establish the modern study of Southern women’s history.
But these days, she spends more time with her family. Her husband Andrew died in 2005 after 58 years of marriage, but she visits with her sons, David and Donald, daughter Rebecca and six grandchildren.
A friend, Doris Leonard, drops by every Friday to read to her, because she can’t see so well anymore, Scott said.
She got involved with Empowerment when her 10-year-old daughter and a friend started a Saturday school for needy children. As she picked up the children, she noticed how unprepared they were, she said.
“I just got interested then in the relationship between housing and organized, systematic family life for children, and so that was what got me started with Empowerment. They were, in a way, thinking in the same terms,” she said.